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I just noticed CVS has started stocking homeopathic pills on the same shelves with--and labeled similarly to--their actual medicine. Telling someone who trusts you that you're giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying--it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong.

-- Randall, XKCD #971

I noticed this too, but they're fake homeopathic pills. They're not really homeopathic - they have active ingredients in the same quantity as the original brand-name products they are knock-offs of, but with the word "homeopathic" added as a marketing ploy. They're lying about lying.

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

John W. Gardner

I agree with the general thrust, but ... even though modern western society does scorn plumbers (compared to philosophers), our pipes do hold water, and I don't have any complaints about the overall quality of plumbing. Our society may not have much high words of praise for excellence in plumbing (you're more likely to talk about your hobby as a wildlife photographer than your job fixing toilets on your OK Cupid profile, even if you're average at the first and excellent at the second), but good plumbers get more money than bad plumbers, which is enough to get quality plumbing. By contrast, good philosophers get more praise from their peers than bad philosophers do, which is both harder to evaluate and less motivating. So I don't think it's a matter of humble activity / exalted activity; designing bridges and transplanting hearts are exalted activities too, and we don't tolerate much shoddiness there.

Some years ago I was trying to decide whether or not to move to Harvard from Stanford. I had bored my friends silly with endless discussion. Finally, one of them said, “You’re one of our leading decision theorists. Maybe you should make a list of the costs and benefits and try to roughly calculate your expected utility.” Without thinking, I blurted out, “Come on, Sandy, this is serious.”

-Persi Diaconis

By the way, Diaconis stayed at Stanford. He's giving a public lecture on Nov. 30.

That's a pretty cool paper; eg.

There is not very much variability in coin flips, and practiced magicians (including myself ) can control them pretty precisely. My colleagues at the Harvard Physics Department built me a perfect coin flipper that comes up heads every time. Most human flippers do not have this kind of control and are in the range of 51⁄2 mph and 35 to 40 rps. Where is this on Figure 1? In the units of Figure 1, the velocity is about 1⁄5—very close to the zero. However, the spin coordinate is about 40—way off the graph. Thus, the picture says nothing about real flips. However, the math behind the picture determines how close the regions are in the appropriate zone. Using this and the observed spread of the measured data allows us to conclude that coin tossing is fair to two decimals but not to three. That is, typical flips show biases such as .495 or .503.


One of the most useful things to come out of my study is a collection of the rules of thumb my friends use in their decision making. For example, one of my Ph.D. advisers, Fred Mosteller, told me, “Other things being equal, finish the job that is nearest done.” A famous physicist offered this advice: “Don’t w

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I'm glad Vaniver brought it to my attention [].

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.


On precision in aesthetics, metaethics:

RS: Butt-Head, I have a question for you. I noticed that you often say, "I like stuff that's cool." But isn't that circular logic? I mean, what is the definition of "cool," other than an adjective denoting something the speaker likes?

BH: Huh-huh. Uh, did you, like, go to college?

RS: You don't have to go to college to know the definition of "redundant." What I'm saying is that essentially what you're saying is "I like stuff that I like."

B: Yeah. Huh-huh. Me, too.

BH: Also, I don't like stuff that sucks, either.

RS: But nobody likes stuff that sucks!

BH: Then why does so much stuff suck?

B: Yeah. College boy! Huh-huh, huh-huh.

-Rolling Stone, Interview with Beavis and Butt-Head

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.

Gloria Steinem

This doesn't need to be true. Accepting the truth without getting pissed off is a learnable skill.
I think, in terms of truths that "set one free," there is a high probability of being in bondage to some delusion or malformed anxiety, and that the wrenching effect of having to overturn a lot of one's prior beliefs is quite likely to have some anger component, even if only at whatever forces kept one in ignorance previously. In many cases it means coming to terms with the degree to which one had been used and manipulated up until the new perspective arrived. At least this mirrors my experience leaving the church, as well as in some other emotionally loaded topics.

It is better to destroy one's own errors than those of others.


Certainly more convenient. I mean, you're right there. You don't even have to verbalize your arguments!

Opening your eyes doesn't make a bad picture worse.

Technically true, but that's a horrible analogy. Bullys are still a problem if you don't notice them. An ugly picture is completely not a problem if no one sees it, so in a way it is worse.

Isn't this opposed to Lovecraft's claim that nothing he could describe would be as scary as the unknown / the reader's fears? As well, there are a lot of shock pictures out there that were worse than what I could imagine before having seen them, and looking at them is worse than remembering them. If "worse" refers to subjective experience, then it seems obvious that closing your eyes can help.
Care to name an example? I've been so desensitized, I think the worst any picture could do for me is to be somewhat depressing. Lovecraft, however, is still horrifying.
You actually find Lovecraft horrifying? I read a bit (color out of space, a short about ancient lizard people being wiped out by a vengeful god, and a bunch of descriptions) and found it peculiar and sad, but not horrifying. Too much Poe as a baby, I guess.
Lovecraft directly taps into my own madness and fears. He is psychologically quite similar to me and manages to actually express how bad xenophobia and the utter indifference of the cosmos feel. Worst of all, his more madness-focused stories like The Dreams in the Witch-House [] directly remind me of my own periods of insanity and paranoia. So it's really horrifying through its realism, at least for a certain kind of person. (And he is the only one I know who does that, though I'm (intentionally) not very familiar with some related authors like Ligotti.) Plus, violations of the natural order are much worse than anything in traditional horror. A color that doesn't fit in the light spectrum is more terrifying and disgusting to me than serial killers, torture or 2girls1cup. Not sure I can explain that one.

Pfft. Even magenta doesn't fit in the light spectrum. Are you terrified yet? :)

Good point. No wonder it has such a negative association [].
This reminds me of an experiment I've wanted to do for some time, but don't have the necessary equipment for. I'd love to see it tested by someone who do. Take multiple light sources each shining in only one frequency, that can be dimmed, in specific triplets. Quickly eyeballing it I'd suggest [420nm, 550nm, 600nm] and [460nm, 500nm, 570nm]. using a normal white light source as a reference, first adjust the relative intensity of each triplet so the combined light appears white, then scale the combined light (probably by simply altering the distance) to the same intensity. Both lights should now appear identical. if they don't make further minor adjustments. Look at them side by side, until you can see the colour out of space. :) rot13 hint url: UGGC://RA.JVXVCRQVN.BET/JVXV/SVYR:PBAR-ERFCBAFR.FIT
Why do you want to do this?
Because seeing tetracromaticaly would be awesome, even if it's only possible in contrived settings.
Do you expect that setup to feel much different than say, putting florescent and incandescent bulbs next to each other? I think you need some special equipment to actually see tetrachromatically: []
My neurology intuition has proven useful in the past, and I trust it a lot more than that wikipedia article.
Same here, though I do enjoy (some of) Lovecraft's writing. I just don't find it as frightening as he apparently did. When I was little, Poe's Fall of the House of Usher and Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains literally gave me nightmares for weeks, so I must have developed some powerful mental antibodies.
Please don't taunt the basilisk.
Or just appropriately encode the text/label the link/add appropriate warnings?
I do not have a very visual imagination, and so find it easy to forget the details of disturbing pictures, even if I saw them moments ago (forget meaning not be able to recreate in my mind, rather than not be able to recognize). Of the time when I was frequenting 4chan, I think my least favorite picture was ybghf gvg.
Search Google Images for "teratoma".
As always when we hear the word "worse", we need to ask ourselves, "worse on what metric?"
This reminds me of Lojban, in which the constructs meaning "good" and "bad" encourage you to specify a metric. It is still possible to say that something is "worse" without providing any detail, but I suspect most Lojban speakers would remember to provide detail if there was a chance of confusion.

You can't make a movie and say 'It was all a big accident' - no, it has to be a conspiracy, people plotting together. Because in a story, a story is about intention. A story is not about spontaneous order or complex human institutions which are the product of human action but not of human design - no, a story is about evil people plotting together.

One of the strengths of Apollo 13 is that it has only good guys in it, battling together against an unforeseen, mysterious and near-lethal twist of fate.

Apparently he hasn't seen many Cohen brothers movies...

Or movies that are about relationships instead of stuff blowing up. There are plenty of good movies with plots and no bad guys.
Which isn't to say this undermines his overall point - such movies are the exception, and interesting partly because of that - just that his language was too forceful.
There's a mystery novel that left me incredibly angry at the author because I was expecting an interesting complex cause tying all the murders together, but there wasn't. I'm probably a calmer person now, and for all I know, there may have been hints I was missing about what sort of story it was. Gur Anzr bs gur Ebfr
...I think it's a sign of the times that I can read rot13 to the extent that I know what book you said. Dammit, I was going to read that book one day.
I read Sbhpnhyg'f Craqhyhz before Gur Anzr bs gur Ebfr, so the nature of the ending was no surprise to me; but I still enjoyed the book.
Apologies. I've seen a post with a link to a rot13 page-- I'll see if I can make that work for future spoilers. You still might want to read the book-- it had a lot of engaging detail and characters.. That's why I was so angry at not getting the sort of ending I wanted.
It probably isn't a common enough affliction to have to worry about. But yeah, I'll pick the book up some time.

If I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has in fact fallen. [...] Gentlemen, human beings have characteristics just as inanimate objects do.

-Spock, "Court Martial", Star Trek: The Original Series

[-][anonymous]11y 12

on a planet that has a positive gravity


The universe of Star Trek could get pretty weird [].
Wait...theory trumps data?

If Spock wasn't looking then he has no data. The theory makes predictions. That's the point of theories.

EDIT: See "Belief in the Implied Invisible"

In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations.

~ Orwell

"Politics and the English Language []", 1946.
This is the exact opposite of my experience- I think wordlessly with both abstract and concrete things, and hunting for words might work for the concrete things occasionally, since they are mostly the same, but for almost all abstract things there simply does not exist any word even close to what I want to say, so surrender - the hard kind, accepting defeat and humiliation, like that class scene in MoR - and making do with unbearably clumsy, confusing and muddled metaphor is exactly what I have to learn in every case I don't know the exact mathematical notation to formalize my thoughts.
You could try using "kind of shit" or similar as the only noun in you consciousness used to describe abstract things. E.g. "Those kinds of shit, or those kinds of shit? Hmm...the first kind of shit seems much less bad when I think about it. Pile of shit - I mean, virtue ethics - it is, then!"
Huh? How would that help me communicate wordless ideas? Just because I know what "shit" means doesn't help the other person understand what I mean by it. If anything this'd make the problem much worse.
From the original quote I thought the problem being addressed wasn't communication, but using a cached carving of reality despite new evidence. Something analogous to how seeing a movie sets images of a book's characters and settings in one's mind.
Yes, that's the problem talking about in the OP. Then I said "I'm having exactly the opposite problem" in response to that OP.
Sorry, I misinterpreted your statement. As for how I now think you intended it, "making do with unbearably clumsy, confusing and muddled metaphor is exactly what I have to learn in every case I don't know the exact mathematical notation to formalize my thoughts," I disagree to some extent, as conveying ideas has much to do with the flawed interpreters, and not just perfectly formalizing thoughts. See e.g. my misinterpretation above. ;-) The sequence post on that is here [].
That's a different problem, and a much harder one, although the specific apple tree case I'm surprised they didn't figure out: "I don't know, but I have a hunch it might be between 10 and 1000. " If I have the notation I can explain it to other somewhat rational people who also know that notation, and might be better at explaining things than me so that others can get the idea indirectly as well. If I don't know the notation the idea is stuck in my head forever.
I find that some of the charts used to plan software and to turn English into logical constructs match my thoughts more closely than the English itself.
Yea. Lot's of problems thou. They tend to be domain specific, making anything in them tends to take ages due to the low brain-computer bandwidth and/or flawed interfaces, others are unlikely to understand them, etc.

The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it.

-Alan Saporta

Consider an instance close to hand: arguments on the Internet. Whether the discussion is about abortion or the definition of atheism or the advisability of tax cuts, one might think that the longer the debate continues, the more ideas would emerge. In fact, the reverse is the case. A couple of scientists discussing the proper taxonomy of flesh flies will entertain many options, but thousands of people talking about God will endlessly repeat the same rhetorical moves.

Jim Harrison

Expert estimates of probability are often off by factors of hundreds or thousands. [...] I used to be annoyed when the margin of error was high in a forecasting model that I might put together. Now I view it as perhaps the single most important piece of information that a forecaster provides. When we publish a forecast on FiveThirtyEight, I go to great lengths to document the uncertainty attached to it, even if the uncertainty is sufficiently large that the forecast won’t make for punchy headlines.

Nate Silver

From the same post:

One might expect it [our gut-feel sense] to be especially bad in the case of presidential primaries. There have been only about 15 competitive nomination contests since we began picking presidents this way in 1972. Some of them — like the nominations of George McGovern in 1972 and Jimmy Carter in 1976 — are dismissed by experts if their outcomes did not happen to agree with their paradigm of how presidents are chosen. (Another fundamental error: when you have such little data, you should almost never throw any of it out, and you should be especially wary of doing so when it happens to contradict your hypothesis.)

People can learn to look you in the eyes even when they're lying to you. But it's kind of like a fake smile; there are involuntary muscles up there. If you know what you're looking for, you can still tell. But what does it mean if they're looking you in the eyes and they mean it? It means that, at least in that moment, they're doing what they really believe is right. That's the definition of integrity.

That part is easy. That's not the surprising thing.

The surprising thing, to me, was that someone can have integrity and still be completely evil. It's kind of obvious in retrospect; the super-villain in an action movie can always look the hero in the eye, and he always does, just to prove it. He has integrity. Evil with integrity is more respectable, somehow, than plain evil. All it takes to have integrity is to do what you think is right, no matter how stupid that may be.

Beware of people with integrity.

-Avery Pennarun

The nurse recorded the time of death, 9:21 P.M. He discovered, oddly, that the clock had halted at that moment —just the sort of mystical phenomenon that appealed to unscientific people. Then an explanation occurred to him. He knew the clock was fragile, because he had repaired it several times, and he decided that the nurse must have stopped it by picking it up to check the time in the dim light.

[ James Gleick - Genius - The work and Life of Richard Feynman; this is a really chilling passage, which describes the moments just after Feynman's wife has passed away, which devastated him. Somehow, this struck me.]

Arlene died a few hours after I got there. A nurse came in to fill out the death certificate, and went out again. I spent a little more time with my wife. Then I looked at the clock I had given her seven years before, when she had first become sick with tuberculosis. It was something which in those days was very nice: a digital clock whose numbers would change by turning around mechanically. The clock was very delicate and often stopped for one reason or another - I had to repair it from time to time - but I kept it going for all those years. Now, it had stopped once more - at 9:22, the time on the death certificate!

I remembered the time I was in my fraternity house at MIT when the idea came into my head completely out of the blue that my grandmother was dead. Right after that there was a telephone call, just like that. It was for Pete Bernays - my grandmother wasn't dead. So I remembered that, in case somebody told me a story that ended the other way. I figured that such things can sometimes happen by luck - after all, my grandmother was very old - although people might think they happened by some sort of supernatural phenomenon.

Arlene had kept this clock by her bedside all the t

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Nice. This is probably where mr. Gleick got it from. The strange thing is that (I think), Feynman's wife's first name is Arline, not the more common Arlene. I found Gleick's book nice in that it did attempted to look beyond some of legends/anecdotes.
I recognized it from Mr. Gleick's remarks. As for the name, I copied the text from the free preview on - they spelled it Arlene in the book. Guess there was an overambitious proofreader.
If you are up to a harder read, Jagdish Mehra's biography The Beat of a Different Drum [] does a better job of covering Feynman's actual work.
Thanks -- I'll put that on my reading list. Will read some other books in between though!

Alternate explanation: The clock stopped before his wife died, but the nurse recorded 9:21 as his wife's time of death, because she determined the time by checking the clock, not realizing it had already stopped.

6Eliezer Yudkowsky10y
Things like this always remind me to doubt clever-sounding explanations of phenomena I wouldn't actually have predicted in advance. Obviously, "not supernatural" is a very strong bet - but the specific hypotheses? Those are less obvious.
According to this comment [], he had seen the nurse pick up the clock. So there's that.

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.

-Terry Pratchett, Jingo

Sweetie, if you work reaaaaly hard, and focus reaaaaly well, and there aren't that many people who are still better at what you do than you are despite your best efforts, you can be whatever you want. If you don't die.

Zach Weiner, SMBC]

“Tell me, Eben: how is’t, d’you think, that the planets are moved in their courses?”

“Why, said Ebenezer, “’tis that the cosmos is filled with little particles moving in vortices, each of which centers on a star; and ‘tis the subtle push and pull of these particles in our solar vortex that slides the planets along their orbs – is’t not?”

“So saith Descartes,” Burlingame smiled. “And d’you haply recall what is the nature of light?”

“If I have’t right,” replied Ebenezer, “’tis an aspect of the vortices – of the press of inward and outward forces in ‘em. The celestial fire is sent through space from the vortices by this pressure, which imparts a transitional motion to little light globules – ”

“Which Renatus kindly hatched for that occasion,” Burlingame interrupted. “And what’s more he allows his globules both a rectilinear and a rotatary motion. If only the first occurs when the globules smite our retinae, we see white light; if both, we see color. And if this were not magical enough – mirabile dictu! – when the rotatory motion surpasseth the rectilinear, we see blue; when the reverse, we see red; and when the twain are equal, we see yellow. What fantastical drivel!”

“You mean ‘tis not the truth? I must say, Henry, it sounds reasonable to me. In sooth, there is a seed of poetry in it; it hath an elegance.”

“Aye, it hath every virtue and but one small defect, which is, that the universe doth not operate in that wise.”

-John Barth, the Sot-Weed Factor

All scientists despise the ideology of 'breakthroughs' --- I mean the belief that science proceeds from one revelation to another, each one opening up a new world of understanding and advancing still farther a sharp line of demarcation between what is true and what is false. Everyone actually engaged in scientific research knows that this way of looking at things is altogether misleading, and that the frontier between understanding and bewilderment is rather like the plasma membrane of a cell as it creeps over its substratum, a pushing forward here, a retraction there --- an exploratory probing that will eventually move forward the whole body of the cell... in real life, science does not prance from one mountain top to the next.

-Peter Medawar in "Does Ethology Throw Any Light on Human Behavior?"

[,,,]we don't just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war. Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument--attack, defense, counter-attack, etc.---reflects this. It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; its structures the actions we perform in arguing. Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently.

-George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By.

I think navigators (maybe orienteers?) would be a better model than than warriors or dancers.

Would you (or anyone else) please explore this further? How would we change the way we talk about discourse?

War is something we do to win. Dance is something we do either to entertain others, or for our own enjoyment. Debate teams work like this - you're assigned a position which you must argue, even if you don't believe it. The performers/debaters do it some for their own pleasure, and they attract audiences who come to be entertained. My husband and I do a lot of arguing/debate for amusement, which is more like social dance in that it's playful and designed to entertain us rather than to accomplish any other goal.

But neither of these metaphors deal with objective truth. If I win a war, a debate, or a lawsuit, it doesn't prove my point is correct. It just means I fought or argued more skillfully or impressively. In navigation, both skill and objective truth are involved. Imagine two people who are trying to reach a destination (representing truth). They need skill to figure out how to get there, and can even compete for who gets there first (as in the sport of orienteering). Or, they can collaborate to find it together. If I confidently and stylishly navigate in the wrong direction, I won't reach my destination. I can only get there by reading the signs correctly.

I would prefer serious argument to be more about truth-seeking and less about showing off or defeating the opponent.


Through the discovery of Buchner, Biology was relieved of yet another fragment of mysticism. The splitting up of sugar into CO2 and alcohol is no more the effect of a "vital principle" than the splitting up of cane sugar by invertase. The history of this problem is instructive, as it warns us against considering problems beyond our reach because they have not yet found their solution.

-Jacques Loeb, 1906, on the discovery of the mechanism of glycolysis

I am thinking of coding up a web app for accumulating, voting, and commenting on quotes. Kind of like but much fancier.

Is that something you guys would be interested in? If so, what features would you want?

This would be free to use of course, and the site would not lock down the data (ie it would be exportable to various formats).

I am thinking there are a lot of communities that post quotes for internal use, and might be interested in a kind of unified web site for this. My initial thought is that it would be like Reddit, where each tribe/community/subculture/topic/etc gets its own subdirectory.

Are you aware of my Best of Rationality Quotes [] post? I'm not saying that it is directly relevant for you, but there is stuff there that might give you some inspiration, especially the weird aggregate statistics at the end.
Thanks, I was not aware of this. I would like to create something like this, but generic so every online community can use it.
[-][anonymous]11y 18


Even if they did, would you believe them?

One of the grislier consequences of Alzheimer's disease is that it places its victims in almost precisely this position. Yes, their minds are going. It isn't so much that they don't believe the diagnosis as that, by the time it can be made, they cannot understand it.
That would seem to apply only if the diagnosis is made very late. Plenty of people know about their condition and must watch as their minds steadily deteriorate. See, for example, Terry Pratchett's "Living With Alzheimer's" documentary.
Many Thanks! I was relying on Sherwin B. Nuland's description of it in a chapter in his "How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter " . That was published in 1994. I guess earlier diagnosis is feasible today.
were getting stupider. :p
There's nothing stupid about "was" there. The subjunctive and indicative are equally grammatical in this context in modern English --- informal contexts might even prefer the latter over the former.

Writers of all stripes enjoy engaging in the most cynical readings of human behavior because they think it makes them appear hyper-rational. But in fact here is a perfect example of how trying to achieve that makes you irrational. Human emotion is real. It is an observable phenomenon. It observably influences behavior. Therefore to fail to account for it when discussing coupling and relationships is the opposite of cold rationality; it is in fact a failure of empiricism.

-L'Hote on Kate Bolick's "All the Single Ladies"

This sounds good out of context, but I think it was actually confused. The context was a complaint that '"marriage market" theories leave love out of the equation'. But this is a false dichotomy. It could well be that people marry out of sincerely felt love, but fall in love with "older men with resources" and "younger women with adoring gazes”, as the original article had it. The cues that cause you to fall in love are not easily accessible to introspection.

More to the point, the original article was speculating about how a demographic shift that makes women wealthier than men would affect dating culture. What does it even mean to account for human emotion here? The way the problem is set up, the abstract model is the best we can hope for. In general, when discussing big trends or large groups, we don't have detailed information about the emotions of everyone involved. In that case, leaving those out of the model is not a failure of empiricism, it's just doing the best with what's available.

I think there are different contexts where this same quote makes more sense: for example you probably won't get a very good understanding of eBay auctions by assuming that everyone involved follows a simple economic model.

[-][anonymous]11y 17

Virtually no idea is too ridiculous to be accepted, even by very intelligent and highly educated people, if it provides a way for them to feel special and important. Some confuse that feeling with idealism.

--Thomas Sowell

Is idealism a different state of mind? Surely brain circuitry doesn't change when considering true ideas.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

John Adams, Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials

Who first called Reason sweet, I don't know. I suspect that he was a man with very few responsibilities, no children to rear, and no payroll to meet. An anchorite with heretical tendencies, maybe, or the idle youngest son of a wealthy Athenian. The dictates of Reason are often difficult to figure out, rarely to my liking, and profitable only by what seems a happy but remarkably unusual accident. Mostly, Reason brings bad news, and bad news of the worst sort, for, if it is truly the word of Reason, there is no denying it or weaseling out of its demands without simply deciding to be irrational. Thus it is that I have discovered, and many others, I notice, have also discovered, all sorts of clever ways to convince myself that Reason is "mere" Reason, powerful and right, of course, but infinitely outnumbered by reasons, my reasons.

Richard Mitchell, The Gift of Fire

"The method of 'postulating' what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil. Let us leave them to others and proceed with our honest toil."

Bertrand Russell, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy 1919 ( )

All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, or to postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time.

Who knows, asked Robert Browning, but the world may end tonight? True, but on available evidence most of us make ready to commute on the 8.30 next day.

Austin Bradford Hill, "The Environment and Disease: Association or Causation?"

[-][anonymous]11y 14

At sea once more we had to pass the Sirens, whose sweet singing lures sailors to their doom. I had stopped up the ears of my crew with wax, and I alone listened while lashed to the mast, powerless to steer toward shipwreck.

-- Odysseus in Odyssey

I'm confused about why it was valuable for him to be able to hear, if he wasn't allowed to act upon information.
[-][anonymous]11y 18

The point of the story is that it illustrates the power of precommitment; Odysseus made a choice in advance not to steer towards the rocks even though he knew that when the opportunity would arise he would want to steer towards them.

Why he wanted to be lashed to the mast instead of stooping his ears with wax I guess was because he desired to hear the "sweet singing".

It was implied in myths that if you listened to the Sirens (and survived), you would learn more about yourself. Curiosity about your own true nature, fighting self-deception, etc. Very much a rationalist motivation.

Huh. Never got that. Cool.

Getting hit by basilisks can be very fun.

Pure curiosity, probably. It's the same reason that (some) people climb mountains or poke around with rare and special rocks that glow in the dark.
For the same reason a kleptomanic may enjoy visiting a museum even where all the beautiful works of art are securely displayed. Because he could appreciate the aesthetic without knowing that his decisions at the time would destroy him.
This makes sense, but I never felt it was really implied by the story. It always sounded like there was supposed to be a practical reason for sailing the ship.
To get to the other side?
:P Practical reason (with respect to sailing the ship) for lashing yourself to the mast.
I don't think so - I mean, he was lashed to the mast so he couldn't influence the sailing of the ship. And it's not like he could shout orders, what with everyone else's ears plugged.
When he stopped thrashing about trying to free himself so that he could go to the Sirens, the crew could know the danger had passed.
Ooo, nice! Although potentially vulnerable, if the song left him with sufficient reason to pretend.

A lot of people are interested in predicting the future so that they can orient their present activities accordingly. With a few exceptions we can discuss, I think the future is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. We are way better off if we accept the enormous uncertainty that pervades the world and approach it with a sense of adventure and mystery... There are a couple of small but important exceptions to the unpredictability of the unfolding. We can notice a current reality that is hidden or nonobvious. We might notice the reality by looking at data, watching conversations, or observing practices. We then discuss the reality and its consequences in the near term -- a year or two is easiest, but sometimes we can go up to five years. Management guru Peter Drucker was a master at this; he said that others who rated him as a good prognosticator were wrong because all he was doing was revealing current truths that most of them had missed.

-Peter Denning

I want to give thanks to the divine
Labyrinth of causes and effects
For the diversity of beings
That form this singular universe,
For Reason, that will never give up its dream
Of a map of the labyrinth,

Jorge Luis Borges, “Another poem of gifts” (opening lines).

I never studied science or physics at school, and yet when I read complex books on quantum physics I understood them perfectly because I wanted to understand them. The study of quantum physics helped me to have a deeper understanding of The Secret, on an energetic level.

--Rhonda Byrne (Author of The Secret) (p. 156)

That's a good irrationality quote - but that's a different thing.
It was too epic not to post. I wonder what people's emotional reactions to it are.
My rational reaction is to be sceptical of whether Rhonda Byrne's claimed understanding of quantum physics extends to passing a finals exam.
Presumably her passing a finals exam in quantum mechanics would depend on her wanting to pass rather than her understanding. ;-)
Does "Bingo!" count as an emotional reaction? (I mean, energetic?)
That's beautiful. Also [].
We do what we must
because we can. 
For the good of all of us.
Except the ones who are dead.


[-][anonymous]11y 16

Rule three of Quote Thread: You don't quote yourself on Quote Thread.

"GLaDOS can do whatever she wants, just don't eat me." -- Baughn
Technically, that does count as a rationality quote. Or at least a very rational one.

There are not books enough on earth to contain the record of the prophecies Indians and other unauthorized parties have made; but one may carry in his overcoat pockets the record of all the prophecies that have been fulfilled.

-- Mark Twain

A specific instance of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy [], which in turn is a type of selection bias [].

We have two classes of forecasters: Those who don't know and those who don't know they don't know.

John Kenneth Galbraith

[-][anonymous]11y 11

The captain had a sudden awful thought.
"What's the chance that they've detected the dilithium?"
T'Vau said, "I can only estimate."
"Then do it."
T'Vau said, "Estimated probability one hundred percent."
Trofimov turned to stare at the Vulcan. "That's your guess?"
"It is an estimate," T'Vau said stiffly, "based on the level of Hecht radiation, and a standard survey of Klingon monitoring--"
"Your guess is that you're certain," Trofimov said, feeling slightly dizzy.

John M. Ford, How Much for Just the Planet?

[-][anonymous]11y 11

If you don't believe in the innate unreasonableness of human beings, just try raising children.

--Thomas Sowell

If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?

  • American proverb

A propos:

Thales of Miletus was a philosopher - so committed was he to thinking carefully that once he was walking along contemplating deeply and thus fell into a well. The locals made fun of him, commenting that philosophers were so busy attending to the stars that they could not see what is in front of them.

Since coins were recently invented (or recently brought to Asia Minor), Thales was involved in a discussion over the power of money. His interlocutors didn't believe that a philosopher could become rich, but he insisted that the power of the mind was paramount. To prove the power of having a reasoning mind, he devised a way of predicting weather patterns. He used this knowledge to buy up everyone's olive presses when the weather was bad and managed to corner the market, becoming quite wealthy when a very good season followed soon after.

In "Self-poisoning of the mind" Jon Elster uses the Thales olive incident as an example of a perverse cognitive bias:

In his retelling of the [Thales olive] story, de Montaigne (1991, p. 153) explicitly asserts that when he condemned money-making, Thales ‘was accused of sour grapes like the fox’. Although Thales wanted to ‘show the world’ that the accusation was unfounded, one could also imagine that he had made a fortune in order to demonstrate to himself that his philosophy was not the product of sour grapes. Not content with thinking that he could have acquired riches had he wanted to, he might have decided to actually acquire them to deflect self-suspicion. [Emphasis in original.]

What Elster is pushing is that, since we are aware we edit reality to suit our self-images, we constantly suspect ourselves of doing so, and perversely believe the worst of ourselves on very flimsy evidence.

Also, Welcome to Less Wrong [], apparently. Your handle looks familiar for some reason, so I didn't notice you were new.
Isn't that SisterY [] of The View from Hell []?
Right, that SisterY. You're probably right.
Not a fan of rhetorical questions []? How about meta-jokes []?
That's witholding potentially important information. Also, you still have to address other people's erroneous beliefs about their points.
No and yes.
I recall a user by that name on Overcoming Bias.
This being markdown, begin the first line of that blockquote paragraph with a greater-than sign and replace the italics tags with asterisks.
I don't buy that Thales indeed predicted any weather patterns so well, that he became rich be cause of those pattern predictions of him. Just an urban legend from those times.

Just an urban legend from those times.

While I agree that this is the more probable explanation, I'm not sure one needs to predict the weather particularly well to know "it'll likely be different at some point soonish", which seems to be all he needed for the above story.

I agree. With the strong incentives for people involved in the olive trade to be as good as possible at predicting the weather, it's hard to believe a philosopher could become better than the subject matter experts of his time; especially with the armchair methods popular at the time, and especially^2 since we still can't predict the weather very well. Also, the story switches from "the power of money" to "the power of thought" abruptly.
Thales was arguably the first Western philosopher, and despite the 'well' story, he was noted for being particularly observant and empirical. The primary distinction between Thales and earlier philosophers was that where other philosophers made explanations based on supernatural forces and agents, Thales preferred explanations referring to the natural properties of objects. Notably, he was the first recorded person to study electricity.
Indeed a likely explanation - Aesop in particular was fond of writing about the exploits of Thales, and we know how often he drifted from fact for his subjects.
If you're so rich, why aren't you smart? -- Traditional reply. (I'm not sure it makes much sense, but then neither does the original question.)
To which, of course, the reply is that they don't need to be, and so why waste the effort? That is, they are smart, on the level that's important.

Oddly, this reply works equally well for the original quote.

Exactly.... to me this is always a sign of a strawman argument..
Or rather, a fully general counterargument [].
Or maybe both statements are equally ridiculous.
If the only thing that's important is money, yes.

Or if money were fungible.

"It takes money to make money." - Titus Maccius Plautus.
Because my utility function includes moral constraints.

is that your true reason or is it a reason that allows you to assert status over those wealthier than you?

If so, then my utility function places status/morality above wealth. Which also answers the question.;

all of the economic analysis I've seen indicates it is more efficient to maximize wealth and then buy what you value directly. Forgoing money because it would harm someone is probably less efficient than making money and donating to givewell.

A better phrasing might be: "If you're so smart why aren't you fulfilling your Goals/Utility Function"

I think, therefore I am perhaps mistaken.

Sharon Fenick

I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.

Bertrand Russell

A common sentiment among the thoughtful, it seems.

I would never die for my beliefs because... screw that I would rather lie.

Is Bertrand Russell willing to die if he encounters someone with a gun who demands he agree that 2 + 2 = 5?

I am willing to lie if I encounter someone with a gun who demands I agree that 2 + 2 = 5.
Profess the belief or adopt the belief?
Deceptively clever. Russell would have liked that one, I think.
Why? (Can you explain?)
At first glance, it looks like a misunderstanding. "I would never die for my beliefs" is unambiguous, and the "because I might be wrong" is merely a bit of explanation in case you're wondering why he'd take that stance. So obviously, Russell would not be willing to die for "2+2=4". Russell, while a Philosopher of any sort, is perhaps best known for his contributions to math and logic. He is the sort of person who would have insisted that he can't be wrong that 2+2=4. In the case that "X because Y", it is generally assumed that ~Y would have counterfactually resulted in ~X. It was a popular-enough way to approach the problem in the early 20th century, anyway. Thus the statement seems to imply that for any beliefs Russell can't be wrong about, he is willing to die for them. And thus he seems to be saying that he would die for "2+2=4", and we're left to ponder what that would mean. In what way is it "dying for one's beliefs" to refuse to capitulate to a gunman about a trivial matter? I'd guess that in that situation, Russell would have perfectly good reasons left to not die for "2+2=4". So we might conclude that there are a lot of reasons not to die for a lot of beliefs, other than that we might be wrong about them. So that's not Russell's true rejection [] of dying for one's beliefs.
Ah, got it. Thanks for the explanation. Since Russell said he wouldn't be willing to die for his beliefs because of X, it seems logical to conclude he would be willing to die if not-X. But that is absurd (as highlighted by Eliezer's question) so Russell hadn't given his true rejection. ... I'll add that Russell didn't give his true rejection but a clever one, so he does prefer cleverness over truthiness, so he would appreciate Eliezer's rhetorical question, which was more clever than accurate (because 2+2=4 is something Russell could still possibly be wrong about.)
Did you mean that, or did you mean die for not "2+2=5"?
Seems ambiguous. I'm not sure which I meant to write. I'll fix it to be consistent.
He's probably talking about "ought" beliefs, not "is" beliefs. Even so...
It's a bit late to threaten Bertrand Russell with anything, particularly a gun, considering that he died decades ago.
Barbarians [] shouldn't win. At the very least, we shouldn't surrender ahead of time.
(Brackets, then parentheses.)
I would die if I believed that would save the world, does that count?
Repeat [].
2Peter Wildeford11y
Aye, sorry. It's a good quote.
[-][anonymous]11y 10

As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth's final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.

~Commissioner Pravin Lal, fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Power is nothing without control.

  • a comercial slogan of Pirelli Tyre Company

The correctness of a decision can’t be judged from the outcome. Nevertheless, that’s how people assess it. A good decision is one that’s optimal at the time it’s made, when the future is by definition unknown. Thus, correct decisions are often unsuccessful, and vice versa.

--Howard Marks, The Most Important Thing p.136 (about investing, but applies to other things)

Our civilization is still in a middle stage: scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly ruled by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly ruled by reason.

Theodore Dreiser

Very much like Alexander Pope's:
Or Terry Pratchett:
It seems like Terry Pratchett is explicitly contradicting Theodore Dreiser (IN ALL CAPS, no less). Pratchett: "Humans need fantasy to be fully human." Dreiser: "Fantasy is an atavism, humans need reason to be fully human." Though it's possible that Dreiser was reflecting on cognitive bias, not on fantasy.
The ALL CAPS are because it's the character Death who is speaking here, in a voice like two concrete blocks being rubbed together, or the slamming of coffin lids [].
That's what I figured, but it still looks weird without context.

As a team converges on a decision—and especially when the leader tips her hand—public doubts about the wisdom of the planned move are gradually suppressed and eventually come to be treated as evidence of flawed loyalty to the team and its leaders.

--Daniel Kahneman

From the new book, I take it, based on [] The full quote offers an interesting debiasing strategy:
Kahneman gave a talk at Google about how and why intuition works well for us on 10 November. I am about halfway through it and so far it is marvelous. Link. [] edit The same talk (very close) at Edge transcribed plus discussion after with Cosmides and Tooby and Pinker. Link to transcript. []
Klein's proposal can also be used on arguments: suppose your argument will be found unconvincing (alternatively, suppose it's actually wrong). What were its weak points? Unfortunately my weak point forecasting is ... weak, so when back-and-forth is an option I much prefer that.
Yes, it is from the book "Thinking, fast and slow".

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A Being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much;
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus'd;
Still by himself, abus'd or disa

... (read more)

Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens. Thus they might come to be stamped as "necessities of thought," "a priori givens," etc. The path of scientific progress is often made impassable for a long time by such errors. Therefore it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analysing long-held commonplace concepts and showing the circumstances on which their justification and usefulness depend, and how

... (read more)

Yet conscious cynicism is much rarer than you might suppose. Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another.

David Frum

Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another.

Yeah, right.

Keyword: "conscious cynicism".
Markus's cynicism trumps your conscious!
/bows His kung fu is best.
Ekman's studies on lying nurses found about half of them leaked nothing when lying about the emotional content of films they were watching. ("Oh, these are pretty flowers, not a gruesome surgery on a burn victim.") I don't think 'few' is the way I'd put it.
5Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 10y
I hadn't known someone had decided to study that specifically... Based on my experience of nursing school, I would say this ability not to leak emotional reactions is true of nurses in particular, because you do get used to seeing a lot of really gross or upsetting stuff and reacting matter-of-factly. I basically don't experience disgust anymore. (Specification: in certain situations where most people would be disgusted, I experience pretty much no emotions, i.e. cleaning up diarrhea or changing bandages on infected wounds. There are some situations where I wouldn't previously have been grossed out and I am now, i.e. by the idea of doing CPR without a pocket mask.) Even in the case of empathy in others' pain, I've had to learn to control my emotional reactions so that I can, you know, get my work done and not be totally useless.
This [] is the study. A few more details (I don't have access to the full study): One of the reasons they decided to study it was because it was a case where they were fairly confident that the liars actually wanted to lie well and be believed. The subjects were nursing students, and were all told that their ability to keep their calm and not present disgust is necessary for nurses. They watched a pleasant film about flowers, and narrated their reaction to it while being videotaped, and then watched an unpleasant film about surgery on a burn victim, attempting to react the same way as they did to the flower film. The thing you're describing sounds different, though- whereas Ekman thought he had found people who hid their disgust well, perhaps he found people that didn't actually feel disgust in the disgusting situation. The full study may have more details.
That is a belief that I recommend people consciously choose to endorse in most social contexts. I wouldn't say it is true though, unless spoken by a three year old with respect to his peers.
An example for your side: The link has some added snark in square brackets, but I'm not up for figuring out how to defeat markdown to include it, and anyway the snark isn't part of the original quote. I have no idea how you'd evaluate the average level of self-delusion.
Love it. (And for reference, if something seems to be getting confused with markdown you can almost always fix it by throwing a "\" before the offensive character.

Look at any photograph or work of art. If you could duplicate exactly the first tiny dot of color, and then the next and the next, you would end with a perfect copy of the whole, indistinguishable from the original in every way, including the so-called "moral value" of the art itself. Nothing can transcend its smallest elements.

~CEO Nwabudike Morgan, fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri...or is he?

Damn you beat me to that one! I loved that quote as a kid.
My favorite quotes were always the Deirdre ones.

Almost anything can be attacked as a failure, but almost anything can be defended as not a significant failure. Politicians do not appreciate the significance of 'significant'.

-- Sir Humphrey Appleby

Truth lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense.

Henry St. John

Science is the assurance of things that exist, hoped for or not, the conviction of things that are actually seen.

Jerry Coyne

Cute, but false. Scientists have been positing "things" for centuries that a consensus of modern scientists no longer believe exist. Also, most of the controversial parts of science don't have anything to do with what can been "seen", but things that are only observable using specialized equipment (which would seem equivocal to the non-scientist) or when interpreted from inside an elaborate theoretical framework (which the non-scientist would likely not even understand).
I'm having trouble parsing this sentence.
It's a sort of rebuttal to the Bible, Hebrews 11:1 []: This passage is often cited as one of the key passages in the Christian religion; Christians often use it when they debate atheists.
Oh, I see. Thanks.

I have no fear of ghosts, and I have never heard it said that so much harm had been done by the dead during six thousand years as is wrought by the living in a single day.

-- The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas.

Hmm, not sure I agree. The living now can cause great harm for the people in the future. In that regard at any given time the dead are creating harm in some sense. But the basic point seems valid. The dead at least can't alter their activity to help more or reduce harm, the living can.
It's the other way around: in timeless view, nether living not dead can "alter" anything, the relevant fact is that you can influence activity of the living, but not of the dead (not as you said whether the dead themselves can alter things vs. the living can alter things).

Even more than the easier problem of remembering faces and matching them to favors, the ability of both parties to agree with sufficient accuracy on an estimate of the value of a favor in the first place is probably the main barrier to reciprocal altruism among animals. It is also likely the most important barrier to exchange among humans. Many kinds of exchange, probably many more than most economists perceive, are rendered infeasible by the inability of one or both parties to the exchange to estimate its value.

-Nick Szabo

Downvoted. Exchange does not require a common estimate of "value", although reciprocal altruism probably does. Rational agents will undertake all exchanges which make both of them better off according to each agent's utility function. Assuming TDT, agents which are similar to each other will also reach a Pareto optimum in a bilateral monopoly game. Humans might sometimes be unable to agree to an exchange in a bilateral monopoly, but that need not imply any disagreement about "value": for instance, they might disagree about bargaining positions, or using brinkmanship to extract concessions from other parties.
This seems like anthropomorphic pessimism. See: [], [], [] (especially #1) and [].

"If you think a weakness can be turned into a strength, I hate to tell you this, but that's another weakness."

-- Jack Handey

"I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it."

-- Jack Handey

I plan to live forever, of course, but barring that I'd settle for a couple thousand years. Even five hundred would be pretty nice.

~CEO Nwabudike Morgan, fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri...or is he?

Relevant video. []

Your moral feelings are attached to frames, to descriptions of reality rather than to reality itself.

--Daniel Kahneman

It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.

Jacob Bronowski

It seems to me as though people can only manage to see things at all clearly when some political wind or other is blowing from behind them; if they turn against it, it blows directly into their eyes, and they become blinded.

-Hans Georg Fritzsche

[-][anonymous]11y 4

I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible, and learn what appears to be wise and right. The subject is difficult, and good men do not agree.

--Abraham Lincoln

Hecataeus of Abdera, a Greek historian who lived at the end of the fourth century BCE, tells an amusing story about a certain march in which he participated during, or just following, Alexander the Great's conquest of the ancient Near East:

"When I was on the march toward the Red Sea, among the escort of Jewish cavalrymen who accompanied us was a certain Mosollamus [Hebrew Meshullam], a very intelligent man, robust, and by common consent, the very best of bowmen, whether Greek or barbarian.

This man, noticing that a number of people were now idling o

... (read more)
The conclusion happens to be correct but the argument looks invalid to me. A man can smash a clock or a compass just as easily, but that doesn't prove that these defenseless devices cannot provide useful information.
The real argument may have went something like this: "I am a very busy and violent man, who, as I have just demonstrated, is quite accurate with a deadly projectile weapon. In light of this, would you perhaps prefer to rethink your policy of holding up my entire army ?"

Similar to Solomon's classic legal argument: "Don't bother me with petty crap like this or I will slice your baby in half!"

I don't think the implicit argument is anywhere near as simple as 'anything which provides information cannot be destroyed; this bird was destroyed; QED, this bird does not provide information.'
What is it, then? A more complicated implicit argument can still fail. (I can easily imagine a situation where the behavior of birds does provide information about the enemy army over the next hill, or something.) To rule out divination you really need to bring out the big guns and rule out all mysticism. I'm not sure any participants in the story could do that.
I imagine the argument would go something like 'Creatures usually act to preserve themselves; if the bird knew the future actions of the army, it would know about being shot by that Jew; if it knew about being shot, it would not be there (since it wants to preserve itself); the augur's interpretation is true only if the bird knows; it was shot, so it did not know; it did not know, so the augur's interpretation is false.' There are ways we can rescue this if we want to make excuses for augury and I'm sure you can think of 3 or 4 counter-arguments, but why bother? It's a good story - 'physician, heal thyself!'
The argument was wrong even by the standards of the time. You just misunderstand the concept of divination :-) It doesn't rely on the bird consciously knowing anything. In fact, instead of watching the bird, you can kill it and inspect its entrails []. Divination works (or doesn't) because the will of the gods leaks into the pattern of visible things (or doesn't).
You can patch the argument easily; either the gods want their will known or not. If they don't, then the augur is screwed; if they do, then they want the bird to survive (to the point where the augur can figure out what was meant); and so on.
The gods are not required to be helpful, especially to the sacrilegious.
No, but the people who believed in the Greek deities also typically believed those deities were heavily invested in immediate mortal conflicts and highly sensitive to slights. Those Greeks would have expected some protection for the bird or retaliation against Meshullam. Seeing none would provide evidence that the bird was not a favorite of any of their deities.
Deorum iniuriae Diis curae. This was not sarcastic or mocking in the slightest bit, as Marius points out and a reading of Herodotus will remind one.
It seems that any wrong argument for a correct conclusion has a decent chance of being patchable into a correct argument by a sufficiently smart patcher, so arguing about patchability of such arguments doesn't make much sense.
Such runs an argument against the principle of charity [], indeed, that it licenses special pleading or endless special-casing.
Nice connection! I see we had a post [] about that recently.
I'd just shoot the bird and carry it with me. Then whichever way I went was the right one!

I used to Code Fearlessly all the time, tearing up everything whenever I had a thought about a better way of doing something. (...) There are all sorts of opportunities to avoid making honest comparisons between the new way and the old way.

-- John Carmack

Man's unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist.

~Academician Prokhor Zakharov, fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. God I wish Zakharov was real.

We cannot defy the laws of probability, because they capture important truths about the world.

Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, p. 98

Let us take what the terrain gives.

-Amos Tversky

Reach out and take also from the Tree of Life and eat, and live forever.

David Brin

I'm all for appropriating religious language for fun, but the kind of argument David Brin makes strikes me as unhygienic. Inventing a strained interpretation of the Bible in order to support a conclusion you've decided on ahead of time is sinful, and I feel would actually be seen as disrespectful by most Christians. Jews like Brin do it all the time, but they're a minority.

Compare the Creationist who writes that the theory of evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. She literally doesn't care whether she's right, since it's not her true rejection, and that makes her paper more annoying to scientists than if she'd just quoted her own sacred text.

Inventing a strained interpretation of the Bible in order to support a conclusion you've decided on ahead of time is sinful, and I feel would actually be seen as disrespectful by most Christians.

I don't think it makes much sense to get too sensitive about Bible quotes; the context seems more like quoting poetry to me, along the lines of trawling Shakespeare for phrases to use as a title or chapter heading. There's plenty of precedent for doing so, both theistic and nontheistic: so much so, actually, that I think the text of the Bible might be more important as a work of literature than it is as religious doctrine. After all, most of the points of any particular Christian denomination (even nominally fundamentalist ones) are derived not from a clear "thou shalt" but from one or two lines of the text filtered through a rather tortured process of interpretation, and there's way more text than there is active doctrine.

This all goes double for the Old Testament, and triple for anything like Revelation that's usually understood in allegorical terms.

Inventing a strained interpretation of the Bible in order to support a conclusion you've decided on ahead of time is sinful, as it is written: "And in the eleventh year, in the month Bul, which is the eighth month, was the house finished throughout all the parts thereof, and according to all the fashion of it. So was he seven years in building it." []
That's sloppy, even for a random quote. The immediately preceding verse is "The foundation of the temple of the LORD was laid in the fourth year, in the month of Ziv." 11 - 7 = 4. Whatever the flaws of the book of First Kings, failures of basic arithmetic in the literal text isn't one of them.
I feel like this would be a bad thing if there was some truth or reality that was being distorted. But simply retelling a story in a new light to make a new point is not new, nor do I see a problem with it. For example, "Wicked" is a great retelling of "The Wizard of Oz" from the Wicked Witch of the West's point of view. It takes the opportunity to make commentary on society, as well as the nature of story-telling. For that matter, Methods of Rationality is a retelling of the Harry Potter cannon to tell a story that supports a particular conclusion drawn ahead of time. That's the nature of stories. As long as one doesn't confuse "story" with "reality", the "telling" with the "drawing the conclusion", then there shouldn't be a problem. I think this could only be called unhygienic if people took the story to be literal truth. I don't think anyone here is in danger of that, and I suspect anyone who does think that way is unlikely to be swayed very far with Brin's clever turn of phrase.
I thought that was the point of his talk! Wasn't he saying, in short, "Singularitarians, even if they're atheists, should quote the Bible when reaching out to Bible-believers?"
Yeah, but I think he was talking more of the "much of this is metaphor and can be interpreted in many ways" crowd. People who are already halfway to thinking life extension might be ok and not an unholy usurping of god's will.
Isn't that the job description of an apologist? I don't think most apologists are viewed as sinful or disrespectful by others of their faith.
It always bother me when atheists argue about the right way to argue with believers. This presupposes that there is a single Right Way. Personally, I'm happy that I live in a world where there are blunt and uncompromising people like Richard Dawkins, and people who take a gentler approach. And I'm happy that there are people using David Brin's clever Bible-quoting tricks. The combination of multiple approaches is more effective than picking one and using it consistently.
You're just arguing that a "mixed strategy" (rather than a "pure strategy") is better, which might well be true, in which case we should figure out which mixed strategy is the Right Way... (I'm not sure how your comment was relevant.)
Different atheists also perform differently with different strategies. Thus, taking into account comparative advantage, unless there is a severe shortage or excess of practitioners of a strategy, or a strategy's usefulness has been severely misjudged, the Right Way is simply for everyone to keep doing whatever they're best at. Hence "don't criticize each others' strategies" rather than "75% of incendiaries should switch to being diplomats".
On re-reading, I agree with you. I'm pretty sure that a reasonable argument can be made that closely resembles what I said, so I'm just going to post this instead of strikethrough-ifying that comment.
[-][anonymous]11y 2

For Wits are treated just like Common Whores; First they're enjoy'd, and then kickt out of Doors.

--John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

[-][anonymous]11y 2

Why do you insist that the human genetic code is "sacred" or "taboo"? It is a chemical process and nothing more. For that matter -we- are chemical processes and nothing more. If you deny yourself a useful tool simply because it reminds you uncomfortably of your mortality, you have uselessly and pointlessly crippled yourself.

~Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, "Looking God in the Eye", fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

...ennui is an emotion for rich people. It is like boredom, but more refined, like high-thread-count bed-sheets.

  • Charles Yu, Third Class Superhero

The facts are always friendly, every bit of evidence one can acquire, in any area, leads one that much closer to what is true.

-Carl Rogers

Less redundantly,

The facts are always friendly.

I tried [] to devise a similar maxim recently: "To the honest inquirer, all surprises are pleasant ones."

The moral, children, is approximately Baconian. Don't think; look. Try not to argue.

Jerry Fodor

"We promise according to our hopes; we fulfill according to our fears."

François de La Rochefoucauld, Maximes 38

[-][anonymous]11y 1

We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism?

-Project PYRRHO, Specimen 46, Vat 7. Activity recorded M.Y. 2302.22467. (TERMINATION OF SPECIMEN ADVISED)

~Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Resources exist to be consumed. And consumed they will be, if not by this generation then by some future. By what right does this forgotten future seek to deny us our birthright? None I say! Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill.

~CEO Nwabudike Morgan, fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri...or is he?

Face your fears or they will climb over your back - Odrade in Frank Herbert’s Chapterhouse: Dune

"It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy, it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either."

-Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light

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Dupe []
[-][anonymous]11y 1

But wise men pierce this rotten diction
and fasten words again
to visible things.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Which is why "X Rays" still don't have an actual name, just a letter.

What? I thought they were Xtreeeeme Rays!

[-][anonymous]11y 0

"We've taken too much for granted And all the time it had grown From the techno seeds we first planted Evolved a mind of its' own"

-Judas Priest 'Metal Gods'

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So I found [wrong] things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you'll see the reading scores keep going down--or hardly going up in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There's a witch doctor remedy that doesn't work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no pro

... (read more)
Progress in reducing recidivism rates. [,9171,1986002,00.html] Teacher tests clever idea, fails. [] Sometimes authorities are right.
[-][anonymous]11y 0

I am thinking of coding up a web app for accumulating, voting, and commenting on quotes. Kind of like but much fancier.

Is that something you guys would be interested in? If so, what features would you want?

This would be free to use of course, and the site would not lock down the data (ie it would be exportable to various formats).

I am thinking there are a lot of communities that post quotes for internal use, and might be interested in a kind of unified web site for this. My initial thought is that it would be like Reddit, where each tribe/community/subculture/topic/etc gets its own subdirectory.

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[-][anonymous]11y 0

But wise men pierce this rotten diction and fasten words again to visible things.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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> Our civilization is still in a middle stage: scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly ruled by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly ruled by reason.

Theodore Dreiser

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Nature uses only the longest thread to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.


This is a duplicate: []


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And? Isn't this just the standard definition of realism?

I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones.

-John Cage

Retracted: More I think about it, the less this quote makes sense.

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It makes quite a bit [] of sense [].
I know, but aren't there valid rational reasons to be frightened of new ideas as well? It's like neophilia.
Maybe, but it isn't valid to be frightened of an idea purely because it is new.
Isn't it valid to be somewhat frightened of a new medicine purely because it's yet untested on humans?
You have additional information about the idea; you are frightened of it because it is new and it is a medicine.
Can you explain your reasoning in more detail as to why it's "valid" to be wary of a new medicine, but it's not "valid" to be wary of a new idea? Keep in mind that reversed stupidity is not intelligence. That some people are stupidly afraid of new ideas doesn't automatically make it intelligence not to be afraid of them.
There's two components to it, really: People perceive exposure to a bad medicine as being much harder to correct than exposure to a bad idea. It feels like you can always "just stop beleiving" if you decided something was false, even though this has been empericially been demonstrated to be much more difficult than it feels like it should be. Further, there's an unspoken assumption (at least for ideas-in-general) that other people will automatically ignore the 99% of the ideaspace that contains uniformly awful or irrelevant suggestions, like recomending that you increase tire pressure in your car to make it more likely to rain and other obviously wrong ideas like that. Medicine doesn't get this benefit of the doubt, as humans don't naturally prune their search space when it comes to complex and technical fields like medicine. It's outside our ancestoral environment, so we're not equiped to be able to automatically discard "obviously" bad drug ideas just from reading the chemical makeup of the medicine in question. Only with extensive evidence will a laymen even begin to entertain the idea that ingesting an unfamiliar drug would be benefical to them.
The vast majority of untested chemicals-that-would-be-medicine are harmful or at least discomfiting. The vast majority of untested words-that-would-be-ideas are nonsense or at best banal. (That is, part of knowing it's medicine vs knowing it's an idea is our prior for "this is harmful", and the relevant properties of ideas, medicine, human bodies, and human minds play a part here.)
I didn't say that being wary (i.e. being careful of it) wasn't valid (and of course it is perfectly valid). I said that being frightened (i.e. not going near it) wasn't valid. So I think we were just using those words slightly differently.
Should you be frightened of an idea purely because it is old?
[-][anonymous]11y -1

"Nobody ever gets that really mad at somebody unless they are telling the truth."

--Gregory Cochran

Which I would modify to:

Nobody ever gets that really mad at somebody unless they think they are telling the truth.

Which based on feedback I would modify to:

"Nobody ever gets that really mad at somebody unless they fear he will be believed."

Just don't believe it. It's a convenient thing to say when the reaction to your accusation happens to be anger. If they don't get angry it must be true also because, um, they knew already and it isn't surprising, etc. Also, if they run away that means they are a witch and if they stay they are a witch.

That is certainly true. Taking such a saying to heart can basically make you just another crank ranting about how this is just like what happened to Galileo. But it is often useful to remember that making a more moderate statement can actually get you in more trouble, precisely because it seems more believable to someone who's far away from you on the inferential chain. Thinking about it again, I see that the original quote will be more often employed in the first meaning than in this one. Does anyone have a good quote that captures the spirit I wanted to convey?
Check the rules: "No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please." I think you're over 10 quotes already. Better exclude yourself from next month's quotes as well.
Ah thank you I had forgotten about that rule. Up voted.
I know which jobs my mother worked, but that didn't stop bullies using this line.
I would not agree even with the second statement. Do Holocaust survivors fear Holocaust deniers are telling the truth? (or insert some even more offensive and unpopular belief)
Good point. Better?
No; when reading this I had no idea that you had (apparently) added the modified quote specifically in response to the grandparent, and thus I read the grandparent as an objection to the second version. And the objection stands. (In fact, the grandparent actually says "I would not agree even with the second statement", so now I'm confused: what did you change?)
For anyone having trouble following, it is a question as to whether this edit [] makes things clearer. To which I would answer (having seen an earlier version): yes, better.
Overall I now, after feedback and doing some thinking, I feel it was ill thought out of me to post this quote here.
Truthfully, I've thought that of a lot of your recent video game quotes.
Hey I didn't start the Sid Meier's Alpha Centuari quote fad! Just kidding, updating on your feedback, please don't ever hesitate to give it since I value your opinion a bit above the average rationalist. What about my other posts and quote posts?
None of them have been bad enough to form a cluster in my thoughts like 'those video game quotes are getting annoying'; was there any one in particular?
Note to self: start a Warhammer 40K fad on the next month's thread. "Success is commemorated, failure merely remembered."
Sadly, my copy of Rogue Trader is back at my mother's house, but "Pain is an illusion of the body, despair an illusion of the mind" springs to mind, even though I haven't looked at the rulebook in years.
"A small mind is easily filled with faith", maybe?
[-][anonymous]11y -1

I think, and my thoughts cross the barrier into the synapses of the machine - just as the good doctor intended. But what I cannot shake, and what hints at things to come, is that thoughts cross back. In my dreams the sensibility of the machine invades the periphery of my consciousness. Dark. Rigid. Cold. Alien. Evolution is at work here, but just what is evolving remains to be seen.

~Commissioner Pravin Lal, "Man and Machine", "We must Dissent", fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.


[-][anonymous]11y -1

It is far easier to concentrate power than to concentrate knowledge.

--Thomas Sowell

[-][anonymous]11y -2

Tau Ceti flowering: Horrors visited upon neighboring systems must never be repeated. Therefore: if it means the end of our evolution as a species, so be it..

~Caretaker Lular H'minee, "Sacrifice : Life", fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri


Risks of Flowering: considerable. But rewards of godhood: who can measure?

~Usurper Judaa Marr, "Courage : To Question", fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Where do you stand?

From personal experience, I can say that I hate both those guys, and their bullshit first-turn Ogres as well. Bah ! Bah I say !
[-][anonymous]11y -2

Imagine the entire contents of the planetary datalinks, the sum total of human knowledge, blasted into the Planetmind's fragile neural network with the full force of every reactor on the planet. That is our last-ditch attempt to win humanity a reprieve from extinction at the hands of an awakened alien god.

~Academician Prokhor Zakharov, "Planet Speaks", fictional character from Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.

Seems like a bad strategy of trying to make the planetmind not wipe out humans. It might however preserve some human value in future universe... (read more)

I thought you were going somewhere else [] with that.
I thought any argument or transmittable piece of information that could convince someone to change their values was a meme.

"Don't sell yourself to your enemy in advance, in your mind. You can only be defeated here." He touched his hands to his temples.

  • Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, Mirror Dance

"Do you know that a man has only one eye which sees and registers everything; this eye, like a superb camera which takes minute pictures, very sharp, tiny -- and with that picture man tells himself: 'This time I know the reality of things,' and he is calm for a moment. Then, slowly superimposing itself on the picture, another eye makes its appearance, invisibly, which makes an entirely different picture for him. Then our man no longer sees clearly, a struggle begins between the first and second eye, the fight is fierce, finally the second eye has the ... (read more)

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Check out "The Ecological Theory of Visual Perception" by James Gibson. The fact that it deals with visual sensory perception is merely coincidental with your quote. The real issue is that homunculus theories of perception just don't cut the mustard. Everything about you is part of your sensory perception. I highly recommend that book; as a grad student in machine perception myself, it helped me really realize that there's no special, sequestered perceiver inside of an entity. It's just data mashing up against matter that filters data.

Let any one examine the wonderful self-regulating and self-adjusting contrivances which are now incorporated with the vapour-engine, let him watch the way in which it supplies itself with oil; in which it indicates its wants to those who tend it; in which, by the governor, it regulates its application of its own strength; let him look at that store-house of inertia and momentum the fly-wheel, or at the buffers on a railway carriage; let him see how those improvements are being selected for perpetuity which contain provision against the emergencies that may... (read more)